Most non-students in the College think of the Margolis Market Information Lab (MIL) like a typical computer lab where students go to check email or surf the web between classes. Seen through the eyes of those who work there, it’s actually a thriving axis for professional and aspiring financial analysts, an addictive engagement of data, insights, and friendship that is anything but typical and everything future finance experts need to launch a career in the financial industry.
Caitlin Riederer, a particularly talented finance and accountancy major, has worked in MIL (pronounced “mill”) since August of 2011. Last September she noticed an announcement for the 2012 Duff & Phelps YOUniversity Deal Challenge, a valuation case competition open to juniors, and she knew she wanted to compete. With easy access to industry-standard technology, world-class professors, industry alumni, dedicated classmates, and her own prior experience at a private equity firm, Caitlin had everything her team would need to win the national case competition.
The case focused on the divestiture of a family-owned consumer packaged goods company. The team’s task was to act as advisor, recommending strategies for selling pieces of the company.
As with any case competition, the key to winning is gathering the right people. Because of her experiences in class and MIL, Caitlin brought on board Sasha Breen, also majoring in finance and accountancy, and Joshua Yomtoob, majoring in finance and minoring in computer science. Caitlin had experience working with both in class and MIL, and she brought to the team practical financial industry experience. Sasha, a gifted number-cruncher who understands valuation very well, focused on building a foundation for their analysis. Josh gathered other insights that helped the team to determine strategies for their solution as well as the approach they used to persuade the judges.
Choosing Professor Mark Vonnahme, director of the MS Finance Program, as their academic advisor was an easy decision. Professor Vonnahme is a former CEO of CNA Surety who is both a passionate teacher and a highly respected boardroom professional. His guidance and industry contacts put the team through a rigorous process of review by several faculty members and financial professionals who prepared them exceptionally well.
“We were fortunate to have Professor Vonnahme as our advisor. His boardroom experience helped us craft our solution and prepare for the real world beyond ILLINOIS,” said Caitlin.
Forty-nine teams signed up for the first round. Competing with schools like New York University, University of Southern California, and Brigham Young University, the ILLINOIS team created an 80+ page pitchbook and Excel model that impressed the judges who ultimately selected ILLINOIS as one of the three finalists, alongside teams from Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin.
The finals held in the New York City headquarter offices of Duff & Phelps took the case to a new level. Challenge teams were expected to coordinate and present complex information over the course of one hour as seasoned professionals standing before a board of company leaders. They were asked to support their claims and to respond to tough questions without consultation. The team’s strategy considered all pertinent facts as well as personalities, history, team strengths and weaknesses, and even opposing team characteristics. Every possible advantage was applied.
“Investment banking is a tough business, requiring disciplined research, fast thinking, extensive training, an intuitive command of analyses, and strong interpersonal skills. Caitlin, Josh, and Sasha looked like financial gladiators during their presentation,” said Vonnahme. “I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts and I am sure each of the faculty who contributed feel the same way. These students are top notch.”
The ILLINOIS team won second place and a $7,500 prize, however, the real benefit came from the experience.
Josh explained, “We learn a lot in our classes but our time in MIL spent helping each other as well as other students and working on a case like this with faculty and alumni is where it all comes together. We each put our best effort into this case and from that we gained so much that will apply for many years to come. I love working in Mil and think it is the best part of my program.
Sasha added, “I highly recommend this competition to any student who is interested in finance. You will not get better exposure to people and ideas that will influence how you think, what is expected of you and ultimately how you plan your future.
The ILLINOIS team asked that the following people be recognized for their contributions:
Ola Bengtsson, Assistant Professor of Finance
Donald Davis, Visiting Lecturer of Finance
Jaimi Goodfriend, Adjunct Lecturer
Charles Kahn, Professor of Finance and Fred S. Bailey Memorial Chair of Finance
Martin Maurer, Associate Director of the Market Information Lab
Elisabeth Oltheten, Assistant Professor of Finance
David Sinow, Clinical Professor of Finance
Kevin Waspi, Lecturer of Finance